The Gospel

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Do you want the good news or bad news first on The Gospel? Since the word itself means “good news,” let’s save the best for last.

The bad news: The film is overdue, and it’s a big disappointment. Starring actor Boris Kodjoe was right when he said during a recent interview on The Tom Joyner Morning Show that this kind of movie is a long time coming, given the viability of gospel music. The Gospel is the story of gifted young gospel singer David, who leaves his family’s church after his father, Pastor Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell), gets so caught up in church business that he can’t make it to his wife’s bedside in time to see her die. Over the next 15 years, David becomes a superstar in the world of secular music. He’s then called home when Dad grows ill, and upon return he finds the church in turmoil.

Michael J. Pagan brings intensity to his portrayal of young David, But Kodjoe fails as the adult David. He seems almost noncommittal to his character’s personality, and completely uncomfortable in pulpit scenes. So does his counterpart, Idris Elba, who plays former childhood friend Frank.

Most churches can identify with having to contend with multiple internal issues simultaneously. The problem is, The Gospel tries to depict this aspect of ecumenical life on a Hollywood timetable, and it proves confusing. There’s Frank’s super-sized ego, which threatens to overshadow the congregation; his wife, who refuses conjugal relations for a reason that goes undisclosed until it’s no longer interesting; Terrance Hunter (Donnie McClurkin), the pissed-off assistant pastor whom Fred passes over as his successor; and David’s love interest, who’s torn between David and the formerly deadbeat father of her child, who wants to be a family again.

All these issues reach a climax that falls flat, and it’s because the entire film rests on weak legs: predictable scripting that might trouble actors even more talented than Kodjoe, and uncomfortable edits that make for too many abrupt scene switches.

The good news: A few gospel music heavyweights manage to breathe a little life into the film. Yolanda Adams, Detroiter Fred Hammond and Hezekiah Walker give commanding musical performances, although editing gets in the way of delivering the full force of their talents. Still, they make it a good bet that the sound track is much better than the movie. As the assistant, McClurkin’s first turn at acting is decent, and he makes it easy to forgive the fact that he never actually preaches or sings. And Powell, who has been typecast as a villain or an underdog throughout his career, delivers a convincing and compelling performance as Pastor Taylor.

The Gospel represents a big stride in the cinematic portrayal of gospel music and the black church. But the stride is a misstep, thanks to a half-baked effort. Adding a few big gospel names to an incomplete product isn’t enough.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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